Monday, May 28, 2012

A Screaming, Smiling Kind of Day

What a day! There are days when I just want to scream out in frustration and tell the day to be over already; and then there are days when I smile ear-to-ear and love how things are going.

Today was both.

Let me explain. There is a test that your car has to pass once a year to get your license renewed. And like everywhere else, everyone jokes about the hassle of it.

We've been extremely lucky for seven years and have always passed the test on the first try. This year, I was guaranteed to pass. I have a two year old car and I went to have the car serviced last week in anticipation of the test. I asked them to look the entire car over, and I spent 1500 shekel (about $450) on the brakes.

I was set.

So, today was a day off for the kids since it's the day after Shavuot (don't ask - they need a day off to recover from their one day holiday). So I worked crazy hours and then took the kids to drop Josh off at his office. Then we went for the test. Now, as an immigrant without car language in Hebrew, the test is either going to make you laugh or cry.

They have you pull into a spot and they start yelling at you in unintelligible Hebrew (even for Hebrew speakers). What they are saying is anyone's guess, and when you don't know what the heck they want, they just gesture louder and more ferociously. Everything includes fast movements.

"Slam on the brakes! Now!"

"Turn the wheel. Faster. Faster. Faster."

"Right blinker. No, not that one. Right. Now left. Fast."

It feels like a try-out for the car Olympics and I was seriously in a state of anxiety by the time they finished. Then, they waved a paper at me and barked, "To the office."

So, I pulled over the car, gathered all the kids together, and marched into the office to pay my bill. "Whew!" I thought. "I've finished for another year."

As the woman was signing the papers, she started circling things and stamping things. "Um, wait," I said. "Did I pass?"

She looked up, and smirked at the guy standing next to me who was already smirking in their shared knowledge. "No. You need to fix the lkjlkjlkjlkjlkjlkjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj"

And there it was again. I had no idea what she was saying. None. Zero.

It's amazing how quickly a smart, educated person can be made to feel like an absolute idiot when they don't know the language. I tried to tell her that I really do know Hebrew. That I get by. That I read my kids' homework assignments and I pay the bills. That I function each day. And that I just don't know car language.

But suddenly, all of her speech became very slllllloooooooooow and drawn out. The wheel. Something about the wheel.

They were all gesticulating now and pretending to turn a wheel. Then, they started speaking even more slowly, and translating words like 40 shekel.

Oh good grief.

So, I paid my fee, realized I would have to go back to the shop to get the car fixed and then back to Jerusalem for another test, and marched the kids out of the office.

I decided that I was either going to cry or figure out how to brush off this experience, so I had the kids start to chant with me, "Test - You Suck! Test - You Suck!" Then I had to explain why they can't use the phrase "you suck" at any other time. Oopps...bad mom.

****************************************************************

Hours later, I got to enjoy an experience that left me smiling ear-to-ear. My older children have been talking for weeks about some street ball tournament that they wanted to be part of. The only part of it that concerned me, leading up to the day, was that my babysitters wouldn't be home to watch their siblings when I had to work. Darn.

So, today, when they took off for the tournament, I was curious to see what this really was. They said that it was going to last from 10 to 10, and I couldn't imagine what they were talking about! At about 4:30 when I showed up in Alon Shvut with my younger four, the place was hopping! There was music blaring and a festive atmosphere all around. There were hundreds of kids, all wearing t-shirts for their teams, playing basketball in every inch of available space. And it was completely organized from top to bottom.

And the kids...well, the kids were having a blast!

For 25 shekel (about $7), my kids had an activity that kept them busy for close to 10 hours today. They played 6 or 7 games of basketball each, enjoyed watching others play, hung out with people from ages 10 to 30 and had a wonderful day. I was in awe of how well such an activity was executed and about the message that it sent to my kids.

Fun doesn't have to be spelled out with gobs of money or with entertainment that is fancy or elaborate. Tell the kids to form teams of four, ask them for 25 shekel, offer them a shirt and a place to play, and you've got yourself a wholesome, healthy, all-day activity.

Priceless.

Maybe the people who organized the street ball tournament could teach the car test people a thing or two. Hmmmm.....

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Grateful for the Expense

Ok Hashem. I get it.

I'm sure that there are many, many times when Hashem is trying to tell me something and I'm not paying attention. The moments when I am paying attention, and I see the connections, (as my friend Ruti did here) however are extremely powerful. And I get it - really, Hashem. I get it.

So, this morning, I couldn't shake the story of yesterday's tragedy. An entire family, coming home from a beautiful day of mitzvot and family activities, was killed as their brakes failed. 8 of the Attias family members died, leaving just one little girl left to carry on their names and their legacies. Other bloggers have clearly been contemplating the reason for their unnecessary deaths and I've read their words carefully.

It's too much to bear, at times, when we hear these stories.

I had planned for a few days already to drop the car off for its yearly check-up this morning. And as I dropped it off at the shop, I thought to myself how ironic it would be if there were a problem with the brakes. And I knew, I just knew, that there would be.

And, sure enough, when they called me at 10:30 am to tell me that everything was perfect with the two year old car but the brakes, I found myself with chills.

And then I went back to regular life for a second when he gave me the price quote, and I tried to picture how we would deal with this unexpected expense.

And as I was doing that, I thought about how many thousands of shekels beyond my price quote the Attias family would gladly have paid for the fixing of their brakes.

And I swallowed deeply, juxtaposing my financial fears next to this tragedy and working to see everything in perspective.

I get it Hashem.

Why wasn't their family given the opportunity to fix their brakes and I was? Certainly, I can't answer that question.

But I can try to put my unexpected and unwanted expense in perspective and to thank Hashem today for that expense.

And to say a bracha of gratitude this afternoon when I pick up my children and step on the brakes as they work.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It Takes a Village...and an Awesome Husband

When people say "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child," they've clearly been in my neighborhood before. Because it does, indeed, take a village at times, and I feel privileged to live in such an amazing village, with such an amazing husband. And no, Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't create that expression; she just used the African proverb for her 1996 book. Just had to get that off my chest.

Anyway, I work from home on Thursday mornings and I often don't manage to get dressed or to get going when Josh goes out the door with the kids. So, last Thursday, I was working at the computer in my very best pajamas when Josh came back in. He was on route to work after dropping the kids, and just said, "I forgot something" before running downstairs. Ok - back to work.

And then I heard something plop down behind me. It was a suitcase. "Let's go," Josh said. Hmmm...Suitcase...let's go...suitcase...let's go.

I still wasn't getting it.

And with a twinkle in his eye, Josh declared, "It's your birthday get-away. Let's go."

And I was still saying, "but...." as we walked out the door. But what about the kids. But what about dinner tonight. But what about...........

There are so many things to do as a mother, and as a working mother at that - could I really just walk away for over 24 hours?

As we got into the car, Josh filled me in on all the details. Since I hadn't spent a night away from the kids in six years, it was a bit nerve-racking. But Josh had, in perfect Josh fashion, taken care of everything from top to bottom.

"Yes, Romi. Zeli is going to someone's house until 5 pm and Eliav is going also. Matan is picking Yakir up and staying at home with him for one hour until the babysitter comes for the night. Then in the morning..............."

And on and on it went. Making sure that six young children are collected from school, fed, homeworked, bathed, bedded, and sent off to school the next day isn't the easiest task. But it was all arranged with the help of some great friends. And - Josh had even gotten us a Shabbat lunch invite so that I wouldn't be worried on our late return Friday afternoon.

Priceless.

And the time in Tel Aviv was, truly, priceless. I remarked, at least a few times, how heavenly it was not to have anywhere to be. I sat at lunch and laughed that we could spend as long as we wanted to there - and that no one was throwing food off my plate while sitting on my lap.

We walked around the Yaffo Port and found an amazing discounted designer dress shop, we browsed in windows in old Yaffo and I got a pedicure in a wonderful, hip shop.

We had a great lunch, checked into an amazing hotel, walked on the beach, ate a romantic dinner at a French restaurant, went through the Tel Aviv craft fair, and enjoyed every minute.

We arrived home knowing that our relaxation would vanish the second we crossed the threshold. Little did we know.

Within an hour of coming back to our house (which was amazingly organized and doing fine without us!) Yakir fell. Now, the kid falls all the time, and I didn't think anything of it. Even as I scooped him off the floor and noticed the blood, I figured it was just another little cut. The lip partially hanging off was my first cue that something was a bit amiss.

And then the fun began.

Long story short - the kid needed stitches, badly. And his mother needed a stiff drink. We went to our neighbor the doctor (who regrets living so close to a family with six boys) and he ordered me to go immediately to the hospital. It was three hours before Shabbat, and I could already see myself fighting my way through the waiting room with an exhausted baby, holding him down as they stitched him and then figuring out what to do with myself for all of Shabbat.

It wasn't an appealing picture.

Then we remembered that we have an oral surgeon in the yishuv who is amazing with stitches - and who is called upon all the time for all sorts of emergencies (yes, he happens to also be a mohel who did four of our children's britot!). So, we ran over to his house, where he and his wife greeted us with open arms.

They were absolutely incredible, trying to calm me down, forcing me to laugh a bit (well, sort of) and even sending me from the room when I couldn't be the doctor's assistant. His wife held Yakir down with Josh while the doctor did the stitches. Amazing. And they juggled all of this while getting themselves and their eight children ready for Shabbat. And somehow, they managed to make sure that we didn't feel rushed in any way or as if we were inconveniencing them.

He didn't even seem too insulted when, as he looked in Yakir's mouth and declared that there were problems with his teeth, I turned to Josh in a panic and said, "We have to see a dentist!"

When they all finished laughing at me, Josh reminded me that we were in the home of a dentist - and that this was why we had arrived.

Oh, right.

When Yakir was patched up and ready to be taken home, Josh and I took deep breaths, and reminded ourselves that our vacation really had occurred. Really.

And I remarked at how amazing our lives are - where people are ready to assist at the drop of a hat - whether it's to help a husband surprise his wife with a much needed respite, or whether it's to gather up a hurt child and simultaneously patch the baby and calm the parents. It takes a village, and as my birthday arrives and I get reflective, I sure do appreciate the one where we've found ourselves in good times and bad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dancing Through the Tears

I’m still dancing from last night.

And anyone who knows me well knows that I’m really not a dancer. I’m one of those people who hide towards the back of the room at a simcha, hoping that no one pulls me into the circle.

But last night at Rivka’s bat mitzvah, well, that was a different story.

I find it almost incomprehensible that we were able to arrive at this point, and to celebrate with such glee. In the days leading up to the bat mitzvah, I had one image that stuck in my mind.

Two days after Stella’s diagnosis last June, Josh and I went to a beautiful bat mitzvah. We were shell shocked, and unable to concentrate on virtually anything beyond the Frankls’ news. So, too, were all of our friends. It was the first time that we were seeing most of our friends since her diagnosis, and we all felt a terrible pull that night.

We wanted to enjoy the simcha that we were attending; we wanted to be there for our friends and their lovely daughter. But we couldn’t stay away from the elephant in the room. And as the person with the most information, I was bombarded with questions and surrounded by those who wanted to know more.

Finally, after the cocktails, everyone settled down at their tables and we enjoyed ourselves.

Until the dancing began.

And as I watched mother and daughter dancing together in joy and celebration, I broke down. I cried burning, angry tears for Rivka, for Stella, for Yarden, for the other children and for myself.

I cried tears for the unknown, for the injustice of it all, and for the year ahead.

Would Rivka get to dance with her own mother at her bat mitzvah in a year?

I was mortified to be making a scene, and to be sending a clear message to those at the bat mitzvah about Stella’s status, but I was unable to stop the flow of tears and the outpouring of grief.

And that image has stuck in my mind as we’ve gotten closer and closer to Rivka’s celebration and to the incredible knowledge that Rivka would most certainly have her mother at her side for her simcha.

Last night, while listening to Yarden’s speech and then while dancing with Stella and Rivka, I was overcome again. But this time, I was overcome with gratitude, with an unbelievable and humbling sense of bewilderment that we had arrived at this point. Whatever is ahead will be ahead. But for last night, Stella danced at her daugther’s bat mitzvah in health and strength.

While Yarden spoke and I sat at our table with Josh, the Shermans and other friends, I was transported back to a montage of the painful year behind us.

In particular, I saw Yarden, Josh, Ruth and I sitting in a booth at CafĂ© Hillel next to Sharei Tzedek Hospital on January 1. Stella was in surgery, and there were many hurdles to surpass along the way. At each stage of the surgery, they had to check on various things, and the surgery could only proceed if those items were clean and acceptable. Should, at any point, things not have passed the test, they would have had to close Stella back up. And then, well, we didn’t want to be there. As we sat in the restaurant, and then a few other times during the day, Yarden’s phone rang. It was the operating nurse calling. As Stella reached each stage, they called Yarden to tell him whether or not it was a go.

I don’t believe I’ve ever prayed harder than I prayed in those minutes, as time stopped and we stared up at Yarden and tried to read his expression. Would the surgery continue? Or would we arrive at the unthinkable. Ruth and I would grasp hands and pray until Yarden got off the phone each time with the news that it was a go.

And here we were, five and a half short months later, sitting in another venue, watching Yarden.

But this time, it was a venue of celebration, of hope, of absolute elation.

Thank you Hashem for allowing us to reach this point. For giving Rivka a bat mitzvah filled with love, with joy and with her mother.

As the night ended, Stella and I embraced. And I whispered in her ear, “Let’s do this again at Yedidya’s…….wedding.”

Amen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Finding Their Own Band-Aids

Yesterday, Matan came home very upset. It is rare to see him close to tears, and I couldn't imagine what had happened. Apparently, some type of sports team was put together at the school, and he wasn't chosen by the coach to be part of the team. He methodically went through the list of kids with me, explaining which kids were better than he is, and which are not (Matan had been selected MVP of the basketball tournament held over Pesach break, so he knew the kids and their abilities well and he was bewildered about why he hadn't been included).

And he held back tears.

Seeing your child in pain has got to be one of the hardest things that we do as parents. It makes me want to leap up, find a huge band-aid, and immediately begin the patching process.

However, sometimes we just can't do that. And sometimes they have to find the band-aid for themselves.

I was tempted to call the school. To talk to the coach. To get to the bottom of this.

And then I remembered that Matan is 12 and that he has to learn to fight his own battles - and that he has to learn to respect the decisions of others even if he doesn't love them.

So, I had an idea. I told Matan that he could try to fix the situation, but only if he handled it correctly. Should he come to the coach angry, saying that he should have been on the team and that it wasn't fair, he wouldn't be listened to.

I told him that, should he desire to do so, he could approach the coach calmly. He could explain that he was very disappointed that he hadn't been selected and that he would appreciate it if the coach could reconsider. He might explain his athletic abilities and explain why he would be able to contribute well to the team.

I wasn't sure that he would take on the challenge, but I explained that it was his, and his alone, to take on.

Today, Matan came home BEAMING! He spoke to the coach, and he was allowed to join the team.

Wow.

I was elated.

I wasn't elated, per se, that he had been selected after-the-fact for the team. Rather, I was so proud of him for taking the initiative. Even if the coach had told him that he couldn't join, Matan would have learned a great lesson.

I was proud of myself, as well, for stepping back and for realizing that my children have to find their own band-aids, one fix and one experience at a time.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Meet the New Family Runner

Matan just completed his first 5k race...and he dragged us along for the ride. About two months ago, Matan suddenly decided he wanted to start running. He left the house a few times and went for short runs. Then he heard about the Alifut Gush Etzion, and he begged us to sign him up.

10 years ago our neighbor, Yonatan Segal, started a race in memory of his father. The race, since then, has turned into quite an event and this year they had hundreds of people turn out. The race includes a number of categories (5k and 10k runs, bike rides, a triathalon) and more. We've never felt compelled to join in....until Matan came on the scene.

So, when he asked us to sign him up, we figured that he couldn't really just go and run the race by himself. And Josh and I got into the act as well. Josh bought Matan some proper running shoes and the two of them started training. Matan wanted to run the 10k in the beginning, but a running friend recommended that he would feel better about himself if he started with a 5k.. I planned to bring up the rear by walking the 5k behind them (you won't find this girl running very far). So that's what we did.

The event was simply fantastic. How often do you get to participate in a run that takes place on Derech Ha'avot - the path that Avraham Avenu took on his way to Har HaMoriah followed by generations of Jews on their way to the Bet Hamikdash? The scenery was breathtaking and the significance of the location was not lost on this walker.

Matan got his number and was ready to go. He ran the 5k in 28 minutes and had a smile on his face when he finished. I was the only walker of the entire event, it turns out, but I managed to drag along a friend and her baby who had come to watch her husband run. Walking on the trail with the stroller, we were yelled at about two dozen times from bikers speeding past ("Get off the trail!" "What are you doing here?" "Move over!") but we took it in stride and kept moving. We also enjoyed having one runner worry about the sun the baby was getting, and hearing some encouraging words from others as we kept walking.



At the end of the event, there was an awards ceremony. Josh and I would have gone home, but Matan wanted to stay and I'm certainly glad that we did. They started off the ceremony with a special kind of award. We have a school in the area that is for children with Downs syndrome and other disabilities, and they were at the race cheering everyone on. The ceremony opened with the emcee calling the name of every single disabled child in the group and giving them a certificate and a medal. They were grinning from ear to ear and dancing as they received their medals. Simply beautiful.

Then, they gave out the awards for each of the first place winners in an array of categories. It was a very warm environment, with people cheering for the winners. Yarden Frankl (pictured here with Yonatan Segal) won his age group, and we enjoyed yelling for him.


We left the ceremony energized and planning Matan's next running competition with him. May this be the beginning of a healthy enjoyment of exercise, health and the great outdoors for our great son.